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Skeptical Flint residents “grateful” for legal settlement, but say justice is far off

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Carolyn Schannon worries that senior citizens haven't been as big of a priority as they should be during the response to the Flint water crisis.

People in Flint are still digesting the terms of this week’s legal settlement and what it’ll mean for them.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Lawson signed off on the deal,under which the state and federal governments will set aside $97 million to pay for replacing 18,000 lead and galvanized service lines during the next three years.

“The money is here but we’ll see if it’s really going to happen,” Yolanda Figueroa said at a community meeting Thursday night.

Last year, Flint removed nearly 800 lead and galvanized steel service lines. This year, the plan is to replace 6,000.

“It’s very difficult for those of us that are below a certain level of lifestyle to get justice in our court systems now and so I’m grateful for that,” Allen Gilbert said.

Like Figueroa and Gilbert, many residents were optimistic about the deal. Claire McClinton said it’s “far from” justice for the city’s residents, who she says need more than just new underground pipes.

McClinton says all residents should be able to get Medicare, regardless of age, to help with ongoing health problems related to the water. She wants to see changes made to the state’s emergency manager law, to prevent other cities or schools from having similar problems with an unelected official making decisions.

“That said, this is a down payment and a move in the right direction for us to achieve what we know we can in Flint and what we know we deserve,” McClinton said.

Several others, including Chester Coburn, scoffed at the settlement. He told a group of lawyers from the ACLU of Michigan and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who filed the case on behalf of residents, to go back to the drawing board and demand more from the state.

“It’s not good enough. Why should the people have to constantly suffer and wait for three years?” Coburn asked.

Coburn says if the resources were available, the lines could be replaced in a year.

But attorneys, and the main plaintiff in the case, Melissa Mays, stressed the “unprecedented” nature of the settlement. It’s the first time a court has ordered a municipality to replace all of a city's lead service lines.

They also acknowledge that this case was limited in scope to violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It does not deal with damage done to property or human health because of the crisis. It also doesn’t address ongoing concerns about bacteria or a spike in Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County.

The details matter, many residents said of the agreement Thursday night. There is confusion over when and where lead lines will be replaced. Some asked how they would know if they even had a lead or galvanized service line.

“I tried calling the city to see if I’m on the list, but no one calls you back,” Doris Allen said. A cancer survivor, who had paperwork showing lead in her water topped 2,000 parts per billion, Allen worries she won’t make the list for replacement this year because she doesn’t have any kids living with her.

“I just want answers. I want to see some results in my neighborhood,” Allen said.

Like many residents, Allen only drinks bottled water. As part of the settlement agreement, the state will stop offering free bottled water by the end of the summer. When that happens, Allen suspects people will be upset.

"It's going to be really bad for the people who have children and for the senior citizens on fixed incomes, who can't afford water; like me. It's gonna be hard,” Allen said.

“When you take your shower, you say your prayers, you ask the Lord to bless your water, you run in take a shower and you get out. I pay my water bill because I have to shit, shave, and shower. That's it. That's what I use it for. But cooking? Drinking? No. None of that.”

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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